Reading the Classics

In last week’s post on HG Wells‘ classic The War of the World, two commenters really made me stop and think.  First was Mymatejoechip, who cautioned against feeling as though I had to read all of the classics.  Then there was Joachim Boaz, who suggested that I try reading Wells other “classic” book, The Invisible Man.

Within these two comments, there are two different thoughts on the classics, I feel, and whether an author—or a reader—should feel pressed that he/she should read them.

There are some of the classics that I feel should be read by those wishing to pursue writing as a career, as these were the books that did it first.  So, in no particular order, I give you Megan Hammer’s List of Classic Books Authors Should Read (or at least try):

Dracula, by Stoker, is first on this list.  It really created the modern horror genre as we think of it today, not to mention that it began the vampire craze that has carried over to this day.  It showcases three different writing styles—journalistic, narrative first person and narrative third on occasion—and truly reveals how it’s possible to have one story told from three or four different perspectives.  The fact that Dracula is so rarely seen in the latter half makes him even more frightening, and truly puts forth the idea that horror is caused by the unknown, and that we, as readers, don’t need to know everything.

I also believe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein should be on this list.  While not as horrific in the traditional sense as Dracula, it is excellent for seeing the nuances of human behavior through the eyes of what society deems a monster.  And how, by naming something, we can often bring about its existence, simply because we see it is there.  Frankenstein was also one of the first books in the “modern” world written by a woman, which really helped to, I think, pave the way for the rest of us woman writers out there.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, in fact, anything by Jules Verne, is well worth a read, I think.  Each of his books are well written, and explore ideas that were so far-fetched in their days but are brought to a level that makes sense. Travel around the world in eighty days?  Impossible in the 1800s to even imagine.  Now we can do it in 80 hours. Journey is brilliant for the fact that most of it is fantastical, a rather revolutionary idea at the time of writing, when most books weren’t involving strange creatures and places.

Lord of the Rings might be cliché, but it really did cement the place of Fantasy in the hearts of many, and was one of the first main-stream fantasies to be out there.  Yes, it’s long and drawn out, but think of the fact that Tolkien was writing it while in the trenches in order to keep everyone amused and away from the horrors of war.  They are well written, and every last loose end is accounted for.  In terms of setting creation, there is no better book to come to than Lord of the Rings to watch a master at work.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is one I suggest reading if you have time and are willing to read it several times in order to make sense of it.  The name has become a catchprase in our modern culture, which really shows its lasting power.  I did a 20 page research paper on it back in High School, and even after spending that much time on it, there were things I was still discovering about and laughing at.  This book takes the cake for a study in narrative and character creation.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a good series, and I think mystery writers especially should read at least one of them in their lifetime.  It’s an exercise in clue-gathering, and wondering why you didn’t see that the Maid was actually the victim the entire time you were reading!  Most of the books are rather short, and easy to get through in one afternoon or so.

So there is my list of classics I think people should read.  What ones are on your list?  Are they classics, modern contempories, or that one book you found just last week on the bargain shelf at the bookstore that you fell in love with?

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About Megan Hammer

An author just beginning to try to get her foot in the door, Megan hopes that blogging about her love will help her own writing skills, as well as let her see what other people like to read, and connect with them. While her favorites books are mainly in the Fantasy Genre, she is always looking for recommendations for something new to read. Have something to say to her? She is always happy to get e-mail at: inkblabber@gmail.com View all posts by Megan Hammer

7 responses to “Reading the Classics

  • Nadia

    A Farewell to Arms is a personal favorite. I tear through books at an alarming pace, and this is the only one I have read more than three times. (Idk how to do italics on my phone keyboard… ). It’s mostly for personal reasons, but I am keen on the issues raised about war, love, life, and death.

  • mymatejoechip

    I tried an exercise in honesty with myself. I moved home recently, and have thousands of books in boxes. Instead of pulling out the books I try to impress myself with, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, who I have read, enjoyed and admired, I packed the top shelf in my study with the books I have repeatedly come back to over the years, for comfort, for pleasure. (Underneath that is a shelf of everything written by Philip K Dick, ‘cos he deserves a shelf all to himself.) The oldest book there is Elmer Gantry, the second oldest is 1984. The rest are horror, sf, thrillers, and a couple of odd things. Book snobs would turn their noses up at at least 21 of the 26. I find my own writing is most honest though, when it resembles in some way those books, which range from Salems Lot and the Exorcist, to the Anubis Gates, American Gods and The Road. If I want to be a writer, I have to have an eye to whatever moves my heart, however the world may judge it, but I also have to have an eye to the market – if I want to make a living from this, my self indulgence has to be limited.
    If I had to pick a favourite of my old favourites – Ghost Story, by Peter Straub.
    (Dracula and Lord of the Rings are on a shelf close by!)

    • Megan Hammer

      Good plan to only keep the books you like out and about. I tried reading David Copperfield once when I was younger, and I hated every moment of it. And hey, book snobs can turn up their noses all they want, just so long as you enjoy them! Thanks for your comments!

      And now I’m going to have to go find Ghost Story and books by Philip K Dick… :)

  • Azuaron

    I’ve read all of those, except Journey to the Center of the Earth, but I’ve read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I’m planning on getting to the rest of Verne, but he just has so many.

    I’d also say that a lot of it depends on what genre the writer is writing in, and this is a list for SciFi/Fantasy authors (with a slight exception for Holmes, not that I’d recommend against Holmes for any genre!). Not that writers in other genres won’t get anything out of them, just that their “classics” list might involve Tolstoy and Faulkner instead of Stoker and Verne.

    On that note, other recommendations for science fiction:

    Isaac Asimov’s Robots, Empire, and Foundation series. Reading his other works (Nightfall, in particular) would not be a waste of time, either.
    Anything by Arthur C. Clarke
    Anything by Phillip K. Dick.
    Anything by Ursula K. Le Guin
    Anything by Michael Crichton
    The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis
    Much of anything by Robert Heinlein (particularly Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers)
    The Stand by Stephen King
    The classic dystopian duo (1984 and A Brave New World)
    Dune by Frank Herbert

    …and Fantasy (epic fantasy, anyway):

    The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (The first three or four books, at minimum.)
    The first few books of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
    …as well as King’s classic horror novels (Carrie, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc.)
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
    Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

    Fantasy I’m actually having a bit of trouble coming up with “classics”. Everything I think of is either too new (Song of Ice and Fire) or simply Lord of the Rings with Tolkien’s name filed off (Terry Brooks’ Shannara series). There was a golden age of science fiction half a century ago; was there a golden age of fantasy? The Conan books were written in the ’50s, but I wouldn’t exactly call them quality writing necessary for authors.

    • Megan Hammer

      Good question on the golden age of fantasy. Maybe we’re living in it right now? There seem to be fantasy books coming out every year, and a lot of them are really good. Potter, Dresden, GRRM, as well as King. Do those living in the golden ages know they are?

      Now, how to get through all of those books….

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